In the United States, the criminal justice system is undergirded by a thirty-year era of “get tough” policies that have bred high rates of recidivism, a focus on punishing lawbreaking rather than attending to the harm experienced by crime victims, and ever-increasing expenditures that exceed amounts spent on education and health in some states’ budgets.

Under the current system, over 6.7 million adults or 3.1 percent of the adult population is behind bars, on probation, or on parole. Research shows that incarceration—instead of curbing crime—makes nonviolent offenders into violent criminals and is a revolving door in and out of prison. Yet we continue to spend over $52 billion a year on corrections. The overuse of prison and extended probation casts a long shadow that devastates families and communities throughout the country. For example, African American men are imprisoned at six times the...

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